Robin Schaffer on Maximizing Analyst Relations
We know Robin from our work on former client NICE Systems. She managed analyst relations there, and since then went on to other related gigs and eventually launched her own A/R practice, Schaffer AR
I reached out and we struck up a dialog. It was great to catch up, as I enjoyed our work together at NICE.
Fusion PR helps clients with analyst relations too. As most in B2B tech marketing know, industry analysts are key influencers, and it is important to get their validation and ranked and categorized in the right reports.
That said, we most often help clients leverage unpaid relationships. Robin’s book and firm cover every facet of the field, and I thought it would be great to interview her about getting the most out of A/R.
Robin graciously agreed, and answered the following questions.
Why industry analysts?
Industry analysts from firms such as Gartner can have a strong impact on a tech vendor if you know who to engage and how to engage them. Analysts sit at the intersection of customers and competitors and they follow market trends. They know a lot, have a voice, and can be great influencers on opportunities, help amplify your brand and messages, and provide input on strategy, products, go to market, or other important aspects of your business.
What should we expect out of an A/R program?
A great AR program is tied directly with business objectives. AR can easily become a cauldron of meaningless tactics unless all activity starts with a tangible business goal. AR programs can help grow revenue, expand into new markets, fine tune your products and strategy, help raise investments, and build attention for your brand and messages. I start with targeting the business goals I want the program to impact and then build the specific analyst engagements to achieve that.
How do you choose an analyst firm?
The prioritization of firms and analysts, depends on the goals you are aiming for. Analysts play many different roles and you need to know who does what. Gartner, for example, is the strongest at influencing enterprise deals and driving revenue. But they have thousands of analysts and you need to get down to the individual’s specialty area and focus on the right ones. Depending on the space, there may be boutique analysts who are very influential in a certain region or technology area. If your goal is primarily to amplify brand and message, you would go to a 2nd or 3rd tier firm who offers marketing services.
Once you define the type of analyst you need, it takes a lot of good old research to find the right ones — searching the internet, asking customers, checking with partners, reviewing media sites, etc.
What is the best way to communicate with and brief them?
Every analyst is a human being with their own POV and communication preferences. For those you have prioritized, it’s important to know them well and engage accordingly. Some are formal, others very social. Some have a very strategic view of the market and want to hear your business goals and direction from a top executive. Others are more product specific and want to see speeds and feeds from a spokesperson who can roll around with them in the weeds. The same analyst may need different information at different times. Read what they write and understand their research agenda to understand their thinking. Tailor your messages to their perspective of the world.
A briefing is the basic engagement you will have. Briefings are free, but you have to “sell” the analyst on giving you the time based on the merit of your message.
Regardless of what you present, people respond to stories rather than facts and figures. Make sure to use good storytelling techniques to convey your message, featuring customers who have been positively impacted by your technology.
Be sure to create a clear and effective deck that communicates who you are and the value you deliver. Analysts save the decks and refer back when needed. Make sure it stands alone without the talk track.
How can we influence them?
That’s the million dollar question! First you need a clear definition of what you want them to think. With that in mind, influencing is a complex, nuanced activity that combines educating them, showing them proof points, seeking their insights, holding advisory sessions, etc. If you do that right you will move, engagement by engagement, to the perspective you want them to have. Every engagement has to have a goal along the journey.
If you want to change an analyst’s mind, you need to go beyond briefings, to incorporate inquiries and advisory sessions. This takes investment, but the give and take of a two-way dialogue builds relationships, and strong relationships are key to influence.
Is it “pay for play”?
Pay-for-play is a very common misconception in the analyst industry. “The more you spend, the more they like you.” Any analyst worth his salt is not influenced by a commercial relationship. At the big firms, analysts usually don’t even know how much you spend. But investing buys you time, attention, and access through advisory or working together on a project. Spending more time with an analyst can dramatically affect the nature of the relationship and can impact their perceptions… but it’s not the investment itself, it’s the time.
What should we expect to invest?
Analyst investment is tied back to the goals. You can influence an analyst without spending a dime through free briefings, but you have to have a very compelling story. Every firm should maximize influence in this way. If you want to get analyst advice and feedback, you usually need a commercial relationship. And for them to help amplify brand and messaging almost always involves investment in white papers, webinars, custom research, etc. I do “guerrilla WAR” – I help my clients get the most value possible with the least investment: no investment at first. Then investing in 2nd and 3rd tier firms before you spend a minimum of $60k on a Gartner subscription. Investment is just one part of a holistic plan.
How do you earn the desired Gartner MQ or Forrester Wave positioning?
MQs and Waves are the most visible ways that analysts can impact a business. But getting a good position is the tip of a very large iceberg. While the intense report activity happens once a year or so, the perceptions that feed into the evaluations happen every day. Analysts form opinions talking to customers and prospects, interacting with your competitors, listening to partners, following market trends… and through every single engagement you have with them during the year. The day after a MQ or Wave publishes, a goal must be set for the next year and you need a plan to achieve it.
How do you get the analysts to recognize/report a new category?
Getting analysts to acknowledge a new category is like trying to sell ice to Eskimos. Analysts consider themselves the establishers of categories and are resistant to attempts by vendors. This is because most vendors try to establish self-serving categories that position themselves in the best light. The best category creators come up with a strong and legitimate way to categorize the market in a way that helps end user organizations make good decisions. They avoid cutesy marketing names. They suggest categories that are broad enough to include at least a handful of vendors, but not so broad that “everybody” would be considered. Then, they embark on steady programs to gain adoption over time.